I never blog as much as I want to. I think part of the reason for that is that I take my writing too seriously. I’m rather perfectionistic; whether that means fact-checking claims before I post something or really trying to flesh out a subject from every angle. It drives me nuts, because I like writing. But the time involved in really good writing–you know, the kind on par with the likes of Brett McKay–is too much for me to be able to handle on a regular basis. So, I’ve decided to start a new category on my blog called Ramblings. The purpose of Ramblings is to just allow me to talk about things I want to discuss without being too serious. Think of it like an editorial section for my blog.
The first thing I really want to ramble about is the new Marvel movie, Dr. Strange. I went to see it with a friend last night. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. I’m always more interested in concepts rather than details. So anyway, a couple of things popped out at me while watching the film. First, and most glaringly, was the admonishment of materialism. Dr. Strange starts as a man of science and believes only in what his senses allow him to perceive. It’s only when he has hit rock bottom that he begins to look to the supernatural for answers (and even then, is still reluctant to accept answers he doesn’t understand). I hope to come back to this in a series of posts about the inherent morality underpinning the Marvel movies and why I think this is a major part of the reason for their popularity. But for now, suffice it to say that Marvel has managed to take modern society down a peg by specifically reminding us of how little we actually know–how the arrogance with which we pride ourselves on all we’ve accomplished and discovered is misplaced.
While checking one’s pride is arguably the moral of the story, I was also struck by the manner in which Dr. Strange shows his heroism. At this point, it’s well established that Marvel superheroes are self-sacrificial, even to the point of facing certain death so that others may live. It’s a very Christ-like element of them that resonates with us and has been one of the major forces for character development in the Marvel universe (i.e. the growth of Tony Stark from Ironman 1 to The Avengers). So, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Strange is faced with a similar situation. Yet, in this case, Dr. Strange creates a unique circumstance to his situation while simultaneously embracing a sacrifice that is (in my mind, at least) the closest Marvel has gotten to the supernatural aspects of Christ’s passion. It serves as one of the most theologically significant climaxes in the franchise’s history.
But that’s not the only place this movie breaks ground with respect to theological significance. One of the central themes of the movie is “natural law.” Certain practices are considered forbidden to Dr. Strange and his colleagues because they manipulate the natural order of things too much. As Baron Mordo states in reference to one such major manipulation, “Do you think there won’t be consequences to this? The bill comes due, always!” While the principle that we should not manipulate the natural way of things can be taken to extremes, the lesson from the film seems to point most in the direction of humans trying to play God. By the end of the movie, Dr. Strange will not have had to deal with the “bill”, but the very idea that such consequences exist is an interesting one. I’m certainly looking forward to this aspect being fleshed out more in future movies.
If you haven’t seen Dr. Strange yet, I can definitely recommend it. If you plan on taking the kiddos, be aware that there are some crass words, a decent amount of violence, and some aspects of Far-Eastern mysticism. In case you’re curious, the Catholic News Service gave it a rating of A-III.